The magick of October

Halloween, halloween. Such a spooky time!

I love the fall. It is the magickal season of harvest when evenings cool as darkness comes quicker. The air takes on a chill and with it comes a spooky sense of mystery and excitement. Soon the turning leaves will fall leaving only the stark outline of bare branches against the sky as nature descends into dormancy. The promise of change hangs in the air buzzing like electricity. I feel it with a shiver every time I step outdoors. Now may be the time of ripening but all of nature knows that soon winter will cast its spell of dormancy and death. The knowing swells this fleeting moment of abundance, layering it in dreams, hopes, and fears. And when darkness falls, the liminality grows so sharp even the least aware among us pause to cast a glance at the deepening shadows. Soon it will be Samhain or Halloween, a time when the veil is at its thinnest and we will all carve pumpkins and set them out as a charm against the darkness.

Samhain was a Celtic fire festival that marked the end of the year. A great fire was lit, and with its flame, each hearth was lit to bring protection and happiness to the home through the coming season. Young men would run the boundaries of their farms after sunset with blazing torches to protect the family from the faeries and malevolent forces that were free to walk the land at night causing mischief. Samhain's association with the dead still persists today.

Samhain and the Dead

Ancestor veneration was an important part of life as it was believed by ancient cultures all over the world that the dead returned to earth at this time.

There are many simple things we can do to reach back through time and connect with our ancestors. You might want to create an ancestor altar by gathering up some things that remind you of your ancestor and arrange them where you can see them. Quietly spend some time in meditations and just sit and listen. Light a candle. Offer a bouquet of flowers. Set out an offering. Acknowledge the space. Whisper a greeting, share a memory, and feed the space energy and it will become a sacred space.

Another old custom is dining with the Dumb Supper, or silent dinner, a meal observed in silence, just as the name suggests. During the course of the evening, all electronics are turned off and no one is allowed to speak. The table is set, reserving the head for the spirits of the dead. In some traditions this seat is shrouded and set with a large glass of water as water symbolizes life and it is believed the dead are always thirsty. A piece of paper and a pen are placed at each place setting, not to converse with, but to ask the ancestor a question or request a favor at the end of the meal. The food is served, often with no salt, offering a portion to the spirits.

Visit a Graveyard

Nothing will strengthen your connection to the dead more than a visit. If your ancestors are not buried nearby, take a bucket, a rag, and a broom and visit an old cemetery. Often these graves are neglected. Just walk through and let your eyes wander over the stones. If one calls to you, stop and say hello. Wipe off the headstone. Sweep the space. Leave a token of remembrance like a flower or a dime. When we pay homage to the dead we teach and understand that we are a part of something much larger than the here and now. In paying homage to endings and transformations as the seasons shift we connect with the 'something bigger'. Recognizing our ancestor’s presence and speaking with them allows them to live on. Through this simple acknowledgment, we give life back to those who gave life to us, allowing for a relationship that continues on through death. It allows us to understand that we are a part of the natural world and that death and rebirth are all part of one continuous cycle.

Samhain and Seasonal Energy

Samhain is the third and final harvest festival. In some regions the seasonal energy is shifting from harvest to resting tide. What is going on in your garden depends greatly upon where you live. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the returning rain and cooling nights has brought most gardening to an end. As I put the garden to bed for the winter, I hold gratitude in my heart for all of her gifts. Keeping wildlife in mind as I clean up and cut down the diseased plants, I leave the majority of the seed heads standing to provide food for birds.

You can honor the spirit of your garden by singing as you spread mulch or gather and save seeds. At this time of year I gather flower seeds that I can house inside over winter and then bring them out to scatter in spring. You can even make an effigy out of leaves to house the garden spirit. In the Old World corn dollies were fashioned from the last sheaf of wheat or other cereal crops, and kept for the winter to be plowed into the first furrow of the new season so the grain goddess could return again to the field. It was believed that the spirit lived in the field and retreated as the grains were harvested going from field to field to hide in the last grains which were gathered with great ceremony and braided into an effigy so that the spirit could live inside, warm and safe, and not go homeless. “Among the customs attached to the last sheaf of the harvest were hollow shapes fashioned from the last sheaf of wheat or other cereal crops. The grain spirit would then spend the winter in this home until the ‘corn dolly’ was ploughed into the first furrow of the new season. ‘Dolly’ may be a corruption of ‘idol’ or may have come directly from the Greek word eidolon, which means ghost/spirit or image.” - James Frazer, The Golden Bough. She was kept in a closed box until Candlemas, and at the new season, she was returned to the field where she was ploughed into the first furrow to ensure fertility to the coming crops.

The spirit of the field was both honored and feared for the spirit of the grain lived in the field and could take the shape of a man, woman, or animal. Confronting it was avoided. Children were warned not to go into the fields and told “the Big Dog sits in the corn”, “the Corn-Cat will come and get you” or “the Old Rye-Woman will tear off your head!” At harvest strangers were treated with suspicion and often maimed or murder as it was thought they might be the wandering spirit. Today we use the corn doll both as a symbol of bounty, as a fertility amulet, and as a symbol of the season.

Seasonal foods also play a role in harvest celebrations. My yearning for the cool flavors of the summer garden has been replaced with the desire for hearty, warming foods. Cravings are reflected in the holiday feast with the sweet, spiced flavors of winter squash, colorful root vegetables, apples, pears, and currant-studded breads.

For me this time infuses my kitchen craft with new energy. I am drawn to spend more time in the kitchen baking up treats and brewing healthy stews, soups, and chilies. Fall foods tend to be heartier, the flavors richer, with energy to manifest cheer and coziness.

The Magick of the Pumpkin

The pumpkin is an icon of the season. Not only do they hold energy to manifest, they can banish the unwanted and reveal what is unseen. The pumpkin is one of the winter squashes that down through history provided a stable, nutritious food source during the harshest of times. They were a staple food of North and South American native peoples who regarded the pumpkin as an incarnated goddess. And It was the pumpkin that fed the pilgrims through their first winters in the New World. Pumpkin is good for you. It is high in antioxidants, particularly beta-carotene, the compound that gives vivid yellow, orange, and red coloring to vegetables, and when we eat beta-carotene our bodies turn it into vitamin A which neutralizes damaging free radicals, lowers our risk for cancer and heart disease, improves vision and cognitive function and helps to protects the skin from sun and age-related damage.

Pumpkin Muffins

You will need:

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup olive oil

1 cup cooked pumpkin

1 1/2 cups flour (or use a cup for cup gluten free replacement)

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoons of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

coarse sugar

Combine sugar, eggs, and oil in a large bowl and beat at medium. Add baked pumpkin and mix until combined. Combine flour, salt, baking powder, and spices in a separate bowl and stir together. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture and mix until incorporated. Stir in nuts. Spoon mixture into a greased muffin cup tin. Sprinkle the tops liberally with crystals of raw sugar. Bake at 400° for 25 minutes or until wooden pick comes out clean.

Nine Bean Soup

Dried beans are inexpensive and store for long periods of time. They are best if allowed to soak overnight to rehydrate. This improves their texture and cuts cooking time. Simply measure out a couple of cups of dried beans into a colander and run water over them to rinse. Pick out any discolored or old (wrinkled) beans and stones and discard. Dump the rinsed beans into a bowl and cover with twice the amount of water. Drape a dish towel over the top and allow to sit out overnight.

Beans are high in protein and fiber and hold a nurturing energy to bolster health and inspire creativity. Beans also hold energy for communication, luck, and prosperity.

You will need:

2 cups dried bean mix

3 Tablespoons of butter or oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 teaspoon of salt

2 or 3 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced

2 stalks of celery, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

a sprig of thyme

a bay leaf

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon rubbing sage

Soak dried beans overnight. In the morning, drain and rinse and set aside. In a large pot melt the butter. Add the onion and saute until clear. Sprinkle the salt over the onion and add the garlic. Stir and cook 1 or 2 more minutes. Add the celery, carrot, and bell pepper pieces and saute for several minutes. Add the beans, spices and 4 to 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for three or so hours. Keep an eye on the water level and add more water if needed. Spoon out the thyme sprig and bay leaf and discard before serving. Serve a bowl of beans with warm bread and butter, or a green salad for a delicious meal to add comfort to a cold, dreary day. Serve to comfort someone or bolster good health. Eat to encourage fresh thoughts.